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The Best Free Things to Do With Kids in Cornwall

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There’s always been something otherworldly and magical about Cornwall, or Kernow if you’d like to use its traditional name.

It’s as far south and west as you can go and still be on the British mainland; to the north and west, the county is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the English Channel to the south, and Devon to the east. The River Tamar forms the border between Devon and Cornwall, and there’s a good-natured rivalry between the two counties. (Just ask for different opinions on whether you put the cream or butter on first for cream teas if you don’t believe me.) 

There are gorgeous beaches, dramatic fairytale forests, misty moors, museums, galleries, and other sites to help you explore the history of not only Cornwall but the wider world.

Table of Contents

Falmouth Art Gallery

What it is: Cornwall is incredibly popular with artists of all kinds (we reckon it’s something to do with the light) and if you feel it’s time to introduce your family to art, Falmouth Art Gallery is one of the best places to do it. You might not necessarily know the names of the artists, but their works or style will probably be familiar to you. This publicly funded gallery has works by children’s book illustrators, impressionists from Britain and France, work by old masters and major Victorian artists, and many more. It’s on the upper floor of the Municipal Buildings in Falmouth, and you’ll find it above the library. 

Why we liked it: It’s a great introduction to art from different periods, and the exhibitions change often. We love the fact that these displays are often aimed at families and children, and there are also free workshops throughout the year for babies, toddlers, families, schools, and toddlers. There’s baby paint, baby jam, and little fingers – all free, but you do need to book in advance. One of our favourite displays is the Automata Archive – Falmouth was once home to a shop called Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and this exhibition is fascinating for anyone interested in toys, puppets, and automated figures.

Falmouth Art Gallery website

Address: Falmouth Art Gallery, Municipal Buildings, The Moor, Falmouth, Cornwall, TR11 2RT

Opening hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 10am to 5pm, Wednesday and Saturday 10am to 1pm

Merlin’s Cave, Tintagel

Merlin’s Cave in Tintagel

What it is: You can’t escape from King Arthur in Cornwall, or the stories that surround the Once and Future King. And with Arthur, comes Merlin – Merlin’s Cave is just below Tintagel Castle, where legend has it that Arthur was born. Legend also has it that this was Merlin’s home, although we can’t help feeling it must have been a little damp, especially at high tide…At low tide the floor is sandy and the cave can be explored with caution. To get to the cave, just before you get to the ticket booth before the path to the castle, look for a small pathway that leads down to the coastline.

Why we liked it: According to the legend, Merlin lived here – yes, that Merlin, pretty much the most famous semi-historical magician ever. Merlin was the one who made sure that Arthur was able to pull the sword Excalibur from the stone, proving that he was the rightful King of England. When the tide goes out, this stunningly beautiful location is also a great place to explore dark and mysterious rock pools and appeals to kids with a sense of adventure. And when you’ve finished exploring the cave, head up to the cliffs to see the gravity-defying eight-foot-tall bronze statue of King Arthur leaning on his sword. 

More information about Merlin’s Cave in Tintagel  

Address: Castle Road, Tintagel, Cornwall, PL34 0HE

Opening hours: 24 hours, but check tide tables and any other restrictions carefully 

Heartlands, Redruth

Heartlands in Redruth

What it is: Cornwall was known for mining back in the day, and Heartlands is a Cornish Mining World Heritage Site that covers 19 acres and explores Cornish culture. There’s a giant adventure playscape aimed at kids, a mining museum with an exhibition, and what they call diaspora gardens. There are special events throughout the year and they’re really varied – there can’t be many venues that have hosted both stormtroopers and Shakespeare in the same year!

Why we liked it: It’s just off the main A30 road and really easy to find and there’s a good range of things to do for all ages. It really brings Cornwall’s history alive, and although a lot of the site is outdoors, if it should start raining (as can sometimes be the case in Cornwall…) there are plenty of sheltered indoor spaces as well. It’s one of the “gateway” sites to the county’s mining heritage, and feels like part of the living landscape, partly due to its location so close to local housing estates. 

More information about Heartlands 

Address: Robinson’s Shaft, Dudnance Ln, Pool, Redruth TR15 3QY

Opening hours: Every day except Christmas and Boxing Day Bank Holidays, 9am to 4pm 

Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro

Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro

What it is: It’s the oldest museum in the county. It dates from 1818 and was funded by the Royal Institute of Cornwall, with a focus on promotion of art and science. You can see permanent displays on various topics, including the Greeks, Romans, and ancient Egyptians – modern technology brings them to life. Cornwall is also famous for its mining, and there’s an extensive mineral gallery exploring that part of the county’s history and showing what the miners risked their lives for.  

Why we liked it: The exhibitions change regularly and aren’t just about science or art – plus there are often activities for children and families. We also loved the crossover between ancient Egypt and modern technology from the radiotherapy department at the nearby hospital – the reconstruction of the head of Iset-tayef-nakht, a craftsman and part-time priest who lived in Egypt over 2,500 years ago was a must-see. He’s had an eventful time of it – the mummy arrived in Cornwall back in the 19th century; Royal Naval surgeon Sir Stephen Lovehammick examined him in 1828. (You can’t miss Iset-tayef-nakht- his 3D image now welcomes you to this part of the museum.)

More information about the Royal Cornwall Museum 

Address: Royal Cornwall Museum, River Street, Truro, Cornwall, TR1 2SJ

Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm

Roskilly Farm

Cows at Roskilly Farm

What it is: This working Cornish Organic dairy farm is known for its beautiful herd of Jersey cows, each with their own names, and the gorgeous milk they produce. (Jersey cows are the velvety brown ones with big, soft noses.) In 1950 there were just 30 cows on the farm – these days it’s around 125. The milk gets used in ice cream, clotted cream (a West Country specialty – it gets put on EVERYTHING from scones and ice cream in the summer to mince pies in the winter), and clotted cream fudge. 

Why we liked it: The West Country is responsible for producing loads of the food we eat, and this is a great opportunity to see a working farm and understand what happens to the milk the cows produce. You can meet the animals, go for a walk around the meadow, or explore the Withy Woods. (I mean, who can resist a name like that?) The farm is right on the coast and you can see all the way up to Falmouth from parts of the site. 

More information about Roskilly Farm 

Address: Tregellast Barton Farm, St Keverne, Helston TR12 6NX

Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 7.30pm

Bodmin and Bodmin Moor

Bodmin Moor

What it is: Cornwall is packed with unusual landscapes, and the area around Bodmin is one of them, particularly out on the moors. It’s a great place for a fun, free family day out, whether you want to just enjoy a walk in peace and quiet or pay a visit to the eerie Dozmary Pool. Yes, that’s another one of those Arthurian legend sites – this one was supposed to be the pool where Arthur’s knight Sir Bedievere returned the sword Excalibur after Arthur’s final battle. 

Why we liked it: It’s a delightfully spooky part of Cornwall, and holds Dark Sky Landscape status, awarded by the International Dark Sky Association. So when you get tired of all the Arthurian legends, you can turn your attention to science and explore the night sky. The entry to the pool is up a lane directly opposite Jamaica Inn, another famous location on the moor – author Daphne du Maurier wrote a novel set here. There are plenty of modern legends about big cats, as well as traditional tales of piskies, so keep your wits about you at all times!

More information about Bodmin Moor  

Address:  Bodmin PL31 2DQ

Opening hours: 24-hour access, although do check weather forecasts, as the mist can come down unexpectedly. Make sure you’re wearing suitable clothing, and take good maps. 

Coronation Park, Helston

Coronation Park in Helston

What it is: Coronation Park in Helston, Cornwall is a community-managed space with a children’s play park, boating lake, and skate park. It’s been around since 1912 and has hosted lots of events since then. There are old bathing huts and a waterwheel to see. The skate park is an excellent venue for skateboarding and scootering, and the park holds regular events, trails, and open days. It’s colourful and tidy, with wildflower areas and the chance to watch birds on the lake as well as enjoy the boats. 

Why we liked it: This venue aims to have something for the whole family, young, old, sporty…it has a community feel to it and depending on the season, there’s always something going on. This ranges from Christmas light displays to RNAS Culdrose band displays. There’s also a playground with a very decent-sized slide to keep the smaller family members occupied, and various local clubs often hold events on the water or in the park, including model boat demonstrations. 

More information about Coronation Park in Helston

Address: Porthleven Rd, Helston TR13 0RA

Opening hours: Times vary depending on the season

Golitha Falls and Nature Reserve

Golitha Falls

What it is: You know those pictures in fairytales with waterfalls and wooded oak valleys and beautiful rivers running through the trees? Well, that’s a pretty good description of Golitha Falls and the 18 hectares of the nature reserve that surround it.  It’s in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the woodland flowers here are so special it’s a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. The lichens are pretty special too – there are around 48 different species.

Why we liked it: It’s a magical place for a picnic. There’s something really soothing about a waterfall, and there’s a drop of 90 metres from the highest to the lowest of these cascades. This is a really old landscape – parts of it were recorded in the Domesday Book. We loved the variety of critters to spot. Dormice have been spotted in the old hazel coppice, and several species of bat have also been recorded here. Closer to the water, there are salmon, sea trout, and otters as well as over 80 moth species, and dozens of different butterflies. 

More information about Golitha Falls  

Address: 15 Well Lane, Liskeard PL14 5ED

Opening hours: 24 hours; take care on some of the paths as they can be uneven, and not all are suitable for pushchairs

Bude Sea Pool, Summerleaze Beach

Bude Sea Pool

What it is: Cornwall has a dazzling choice of beaches, from north to south, but we decided we really liked Summerleaze, partly because of Bude Sea Pool. The beach is only about five minutes on foot from the centre of Bude. The sea pool is right at the bottom of the cliffs and is part natural, part man-made. The pool gets cleaned out every day when the tide comes in and goes out again, and has been popular with swimmers since the 1930s. 

Why we liked it: Although the beach is popular with surfers, it doesn’t get completely overrun like some of the better known locations nearby. The car park is large and you can get straight on to the sand dunes. The beach is really pretty – you can watch the fishing boats come and go and keep track of the surfers who prefer this quieter locale. There’s a decent play area, but the main attraction is definitely the pool. The beach also has lifeguard cover in high season. 

More information about Bude Sea Pool  

Address: Summerleaze Beach, Bude, Cornwall, EX23 8HN

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 10am to 6pm

The Merry Maidens Stone Circle, Penzance

Merry Maidens Stone Circle in Penzance

What it is: Yep, you guessed it – it’s a stone circle in Cornwall, made up of 19 standing stones. There are dozens if not hundreds of stone circles and prehistoric sites scattered all over Cornwall – take a pin and stick it in a map at random, and you’ll probably hit at least one circle or two! The legend for this one has it that nineteen young women had been to a wedding, and one night before the Sabbath (Sunday back then) they were dancing to wild music played by two pipers. Midnight struck and the Sabbath arrived – and the women kept dancing. Both they and the Pipers were turned to stone for their wickedness. (The Pipers are in the field next door, just the two of them.) 

Why we liked it: but seriously, forget Stonehenge – Cornwall is absolutely littered with stone circles, including this one. Nobody knows why our ancestors built so many of these all over the place, but they’re really common in the West Country, and each one has a legend attached. They’re usually in truly stunning and remote landscapes. As they’re not visited as much as Stonehenge and some other larger circles, you can usually go right up to the stones themselves. You do need to know there is a stile to cross to get to the path that leads up to the circle. 

More information about Merry Maidens Stone Circle  

Address: B3315, Penzance TR19 6BQ

Opening hours: 24 hours. Beware of piskies and pipers, though!

Written by
David Prior

David Prior is an NCTJ-qualified journalist and the editor of Big Family Breaks. He is also a father of five and an experienced traveller, especially with kids.

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